In the Oct. 15 issue of the Standard Bearer we called attention to some more recent ecumenical developments. There are still a few such developments which deserve mention. This is especially in the light of the fact that many now believe that the so called COCU plans are not making any appreciable progress in efforts to unite Protestantism. Many have given up on COCU and are looking for alternatives. COCU stands for “Consultation on Church Union” and envisions an eventual merger of nine protestant denominations with a combined membership of over thirty million.
One such new development is an impetus towards a worldwide union of Lutherans and Reformed. Talks between Lutheran and Reformed theologians have been going on for over a decade. Many have concluded that there are no insuperable obstacles to such union and that the time has come to take positive steps towards bringing the Lutheran and Reformed branches of Protestantism together. A first step which has been proposed is the establishment of fellowship which would permit pastors and members of participating denominations to receive communion in churches other than their own. It will be interesting to see whether the breach between Calvin and Luther is eventually healed. One point to remember however is that many Lutheran and Reformed Churches have departed far from the teachings of both Luther and Calvin.
Another development is the formation of the National Presbyterian and Reformed Fellowship. What this is can best be described by means of a quote from the Presbyterian Guardian.
The news item (in a former issue of the Guardian, H.H.) noted the presence of participants at a planning meeting in Philadelphia from the following churches: The Presbyterian Church U.S. (“Southern”), the United Presbyterian Church U.S.A., the Reformed Church in America, the Christian Reformed Church, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, the Reformed Presbyterian Church Evangelical Synod, and the Reformed Presbyterian Church N.A. (Covenanter”). At least some of the participants from the Orthodox Presbyterian and the two Reformed Presbyterian Churches were there with the approval of some official agency within their churches; all others were there without ecclesiastical endorsement of any kind.
The Fellowship is open to any ordained minister or elder from any church in the Reformed or Presbyterian tradition who will share in the new organization’s objectives. These goals include a joining together for “encouragement and mutual assistance of those who seek in our time the unity of a pure witness to the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ”; and this is avowedly a seeking after true ecumenism that is both Reformed in doctrine and Presbyterian in church government. In other words, the Fellowship at least is open to working toward a “National Presbyterian and Reformed Church” that might include all the various remnant groups who are still true Calvinists.
Several things are evident from the above quotation. In the first place, this group is still “unofficial” in the sense that it is a voluntary meeting of men who are not appointed by their respective denominations or authorized to act on behalf of their churches. In the second place, it is also evident that the Fellowship is composed of “conservatives” within the Reformed and Presbyterian church world who are alarmed at the apostasy of their denominations and who are interested in preserving the Reformed and Presbyterian heritage. In the third place, although this also is quite unofficial, the Fellowship has as its goal the formation of a new denomination in which conservatives in these (and other) denominations could find a refuge.
The organization is in its infancy. Developments should prove interesting.
THE CONSEQUENCES OF DISOBEDIENCE
The child of God whose life is governed and guided by the; Scriptures is able to know the will of God in these evil days and is able to define, in the light of God’s Word, what is the great sickness of our times. He is in a position to evaluate present day trends and point out their evils and their dangers. He can do this because the Word of God sheds light upon his pathway.
Sometimes, in surprising ways, worldly men are able t6 see these same things. They write, sometimes as if their writings are original findings, things which God’s people have been saying right along. A rather striking illustration of this is a column in Newsweek written by that thoughtful and, often, provocative, but unbelieving columnist, Stewart Alsop.
The column was written soon after Daniel Ellsberg broke his pledge to protect government secrets and handed masses of papers dealing with the Vietnam War to the New York Timeswhich promptly proceeded to publish them.
Referring to several acts of law-breaking which took place about the same time (the sealing off of Manhattan’s bridges, the invasion of Washington by thousands of young people who committed many lawless acts, the arrest of many of these young people by police who disregarded constitutional procedures, the illegal strike of workers in public services such as postal workers, firemen, etc.), he asks whether these things would have happened twenty, or even ten, years ago. His answer is “No.” And he quotes from the dissent of Chief Justice Burger in the New York Times case:
It is hardly believable that a great institution (like the Times) would fail to perform one of the basic and simple duties of every citizen with respect to the discovery . . . of stolen property . . . That duty, I had thought—perhaps naively—was to report forthwith, to responsible public officers. This duty rests on taxi drivers, Justices, and The New York Times.
Alsop goes on to make some interesting observations about this.
The conclusion is obvious: nobody plays by the rules any more. Not the kids, not the cops, not the garbagemen, not the editors of the Times, not the keepers of Manhattan’s bridges. This has, to be sure, never been a notably law-abiding country. Even so, there was a national consensus even as recently as ten years ago that law breaking was pretty risky business, and morally dubious to boot.
This is no longer so. If Daniel Ellsberg goes to jail, he will be widely hailed as a martyr-hero like the Berrigan brothers. . . .
What has happened to make the great change. . . ? One thing that has happened is that “civil disobedience”—a euphemism for breaking those laws in which the law breaker does not believe—has become both respectable and relatively safe. The civil-rights movement of the early ’60s began to make it respectable, and the increasing unpopularity of the Vietnam war has helped to make it safe as well as respectable. . . .
The unpopularity of the war has also lent respectability to the “revolution” of the radical young. . . . The young have taught the angry workers and other interested onlookers an important lesson—that if a great many people are breaking the law at the same time, an individual doing so runs little risk of severe punishment. , . .
In other areas, breaking the law involves very little personal risk. The “kids” who are “busted” risk at most a whack on the head, maybe a-whiff of tear gas, possibly a night in jail. They thus become, almost painlessly, instant heroes. The garbage men or postal workers who strike don’t even risk that much—on the contrary, they are rewarded with fat pay raises.
Obviously, it is possible, and always has been, to break the law in a good cause. Undoubtedly, the editors of the Times most sincerely believed that their cause was good. So did the kids, the cops, the bridge keepers and the garbage men. But surely there is a real danger here. In his Farewell Address, that eminently sensible fellow, George Washington, had this to say: “The very idea of the power and the right of the people to establish government presupposes the duty of every individual to obey the established government.
Many Americans now regard it as the duty of the individual to defy “the established government.” Past history suggests that mass defiance invites, sooner or later, an authoritarian and repressive response. Today in this country there is less repression of dissent than in any other nation. . . .
So the danger is not immediate. But the disintegration of the authority of the “established government” could produce an authoritarian regime, if it were combined with a severe economic depression. That combination could happen here.
While Alsop certainly does not understand that God has ordained government, and that it must be obeyed for God’s sake, he does see that, if the right is granted to every man to decide for himself whether or not he will obey or disobey an existing law, that government cannot long continue. And he sees, too, that the result is totalitarian regime which denies its citizens all rights. He sees what many churchmen, who openly advocate and themselves practice civil disobedience, refuse to recognize. Often the children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light.
The world synod of bishops is, at the time of this writing, still engaged in its month-long meeting at the Vatican. It is more than an average and routine meeting. While the results of the meeting will not be known for some time, the church faces crucial issues. And the issues meet in the struggle between conservative and liberal factions of the church. While the problems of modernizing the church and of taking a stand on the issues of “world revolution” engage a great deal of the bishops’ time, nevertheless, the problem which is hitting the headlines is the problem of clerical celibacy. The church is in a sort of a crisis on this point. The problem is that for every two or three men who are joining the priesthood these days, five are leaving. And, as often as not, the reason is clerical celibacy. The bishops, however, can only advise; the pope has the last word. And the pope is a conservative.
Recently the World Council of Churches has, under a program of aid to combat racism in 1970, given grants amounting to $200,000 to various liberation groups in southern Africa. It has also given an equal amount of money to other organizations within Africa, many of which have been insurrection groups under communist domination. A loud cry of dismay and a howl of disagreement have risen throughout the world; and even the Reader’s Digest has pointedly asked whether this is the real business of the Church. It is an indication of how far the W.C.C. has gone in the direction of the social gospel.
There are several bills now pending in Congress which are bills aimed at giving the government the right to take, without the agreement of parents, children from parental control and place them under government care. The reasoning is ostensibly that many children do not receive proper care and training in the home, grow up uneducated and underprivileged and become problems for society. The supporters of the bills argue that if parents cannot do a proper job of taking care of their children and if the result is that these children become burdens on society, the government must step in and do what the home is failing to do.
But it is not all quite that simple. Many supporters of the bill already speak of the long-range goals as being government care of all children. The propaganda mills are already at work and the country is being subtly prepared for such a program. What a monstrous crime it would be if this ever came into existence.